Recently in Performances
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
15 Mar 2005
Countertenors Victorious in Copenhagen
Last week in the Danish capital city, still chilly after freezing weather and heavy snow, the spirits were raised by two contrasting but equally fulfilling events in the shape of the Danish Royal Opera’s revival of Francisco Negrin’s production of Handel’s “Giulio Cesare” featuring the return of star European countertenor Andreas Scholl in the title role, and the debut appearance in the city of his American counterpart, David Daniels, in a concert performance of Bach and Vivaldi. Both singers were in fact enjoying indulging their talents in their less well known fachs: Scholl is rarely seen on the opera stage and admits to feeling less than completely at home there. Daniels, on the other hand, fresh from yet another Handelian triumph at the Metropolitan Opera (Bertarido in the sumptuous new production of “Rodelinda”) is not known as a Bach specialist, but was essaying his second concert performance in Europe of the great cantata BWV82, “Ich Habe Genug”, reviewed elsewhere.
Copenhagen Opera House
High Flying Singing: Copenhagen's Baroque Feast
Last week in the Danish capital city, still chilly after freezing weather and heavy snow, the spirits were raised by two contrasting but equally fulfilling events in the shape of the Danish Royal Opera's revival of Francisco Negrin's production of Handel's "Giulio Cesare" featuring the return of star European countertenor Andreas Scholl in the title role, and the debut appearance in the city of his American counterpart, David Daniels, in a concert performance of Bach and Vivaldi. Both singers were in fact enjoying indulging their talents in their less well known fachs: Scholl is rarely seen on the opera stage and admits to feeling less than completely at home there. Daniels, on the other hand, fresh from yet another Handelian triumph at the Metropolitan Opera (Bertarido in the sumptuous new production of "Rodelinda") is not known as a Bach specialist, but was essaying his second concert performance in Europe of the great cantata BWV82, "Ich Habe Genug", reviewed elsewhere.
This taking over of Copenhagen by the men who sing high was augmented by two others: Chris Robson, also reprising his acting tour de force in the role of Tolomeo alongside Scholl, and a fascinating newcomer to the European opera scene in the form of young Michael Maniaci, a true male soprano in the small but pivotal role of Nireno. He was one of only two cast members new to the production, the other being John Lundgren as Curio. Once again, Lars Ulrik Mortensen conducted the baroque orchestra Concerto Copenhagen, this time more fully equipped in the horn section and sounding more comfortable in the most demanding of Handel's intricacies.
From a box-office point of view, this was a revival to ensure good returns on a known success story and it did not fail to come up with the goods in that department. Vocally too, the entire returning cast of Scholl, Inger Dam Jensen (Cleopatra), Randi Stene (Cornelia), Tuva Semmingsen (Sesto), Palle Knudsen (Achilla) all sounded far more in concert with both staging and each other, and many of the first-run lacunae have been filled or re-jigged to work more smoothly. However, it was also obvious that this staging still has its limitations and oddities that strike an uncomfortable note - the dead shark's appearance to loud audience laughter just prior to the emotionally-draining aria from an imprisoned Cornelia is still a dramatic disaster, whilst some of the more obvious visual jokes pall quickly.
Vocally, the stand outs were Semmingsen and Scholl. The young mezzo has matured vocally and dramatically and now makes a stunningly effective Sesto, showing great understanding of Handelian sensibilities yet also displaying confident cadenzas and ornaments all her own. She is lucky to have the build and features that adapt well to this part, and should be able to take this role almost anywhere in the world, should she wish to. Scholl's many fans were not disappointed by his performances during the first week - his renowned tone and technique, not to mention upstanding physique, fit this role extremely well, and there were some glorious moments once he had warmed up. If his "Aure, deh per pieta" lacked a little in legato silkiness compared to the first run, his singing in "Se Infiorito", the "duet" with the violinist on stage, was particularly elegant, charming and effortlessly virtuosic and also showed that he is now, at this stage of his career, beginning to feel more comfortable on the opera stage. A slight tendency to wave the hands around in moments of high emotion remains, but overall this was a much more satisfying dramatic performance than three years ago.
One young singer who will not have any such concerns on the dramatic front is Michael Maniaci - at 28 years old he is already showing an amazing ability to hold the eye whilst doing virtually nothing on the stage, coupled with an exciting strong true male soprano voice that promises much in roles written for the higher castratos of Handel's time. He has already had significant successes in such roles and as Monteverdi's Nerone in the United States (Wolf Trap, Glimmerglass, Chicago Opera Theatre ) as well as a much-discussed Cherubino at Pittsburg, and this was his European debut in a large house. Unlike in the original production three years ago, Nireno's one aria in Act 2 "Chi pede un momento" has been restored for Maniaci to sing, and he took full advantage of this opportunity. If the voice was still a little unfocused and uncontrolled from time to time, he showed excellent intonation, strength and true colour. One could look forward to hearing him in the title role of a major production Xerxes one day, and certainly as Sesto in the near future. Could this voice be the next big thing on the baroque opera scene, in the way that Daniels was a decade ago? Certainly it is an exciting prospect to whet the appetite of aficionados of the genre.
© Sue Loder 2005